Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Gwendoline Christie In-Depth on the Honor of Playing Captain Phasma

Gwendoline, the way Captain Phasma has stolen the hearts of people so quickly here, we’ve seen [...]

(Photo: Lucasfilm)

Captain Phasma, the "chrome trooper" leader in the villainous First Order, is already a breakout star. Villains in the Star Wars universe have typically been hits with fans, but it seems this one, from the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has something special.

Disney and its partners have noticed that, too. The top two characters when it comes to accessories, toys, and apparel, are BB-8, the adorable droid, and Phasma. This is all despite the fact that so far we have a total of about 20 seconds (if that) of footage featuring the imposing figure. Action figures, mugs, voice-changing helmets, t-shirts, dresses, statues, pins, and more collectibles are on the market now, with more on the way soon.

At 6'3", actress Gwendoline Christie is no small part of that early success. Bringing the first female villain in a live-action Star Wars adventure to screen is a daunting task, but Christie is much less nervous than she is excited. She uses words like "delighted," "wonderful," "sensational," and said that even while filming, she was "a fan, desperate to see this movie."

Christie sat down with for a one-on-one interview in a quiet, low-lit room in Los Angeles during the global press day for The Force Awakens. Sitting on a plush white leather couch, the first thing you notice about her is the opposite of Captain Phasma. Where the latter is clad head-to-toe in chrome armor, carrying herself as an imposing figure you instantly know is a leader, Christie herself portrays a different form of confidence. Hers is instantly inspiring and inviting, and with a genuine smile and delightful eye contact, she welcomed and thanked me for coming, as if I was the one doing her the favor.

Presented in full, then, is the transcript of our conversation about all things Star Wars: The Force Awakens, from her first reading of the script in a locked room in Pinewood Studios, to the impact her character is already having on an as-yet underserved female Star Wars fanbase.

(Photo: Lucas Siegel)

Gwendoline, the way Captain Phasma has stolen the hearts of people so quickly here, we've seen so little of her, but there are already toys and shirts and accessories – what's that been like for you, seeing the character take off with people right away?

Gwendoline Christie: I was so surprised and delighted by the response to this character. I think that JJ Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy and the whole creative team have created a character that is truly progressive. The reason I believe her to be progressive is that we are used to, in our entertainment culture, forming a relationship with particularly women due to the way they are made flesh.

With this female character, which is Star Wars first on-screen female villain, we have formed out initial relationship with her not based on that, but based on her actions and her character.

I couldn't be more delighted to see the amazing fan response to Captain Phasma. I think what Star Wars has done, that JJ Abrams has honored the origins of the Star Wars films but bringing it up to date in this way, I feel like the audience have already spoken and said, 'Yes, this is what we want from a Star Wars movie!'

What's it like for you in particular, then, being a part of the changing face of the franchise, where there's a concerted effort to bring in more female characters to represent the female fanbase?

GC: What a wonderful opportunity, it really is. I'm just so thrilled that they have created a character like this and that I have the opportunity to play that character. I've always been interested in more diverse representations of our society in our entertainment. I feel like that's what people want!

When we see incredible responses to characters such as these, to me, that's the audience directly saying 'this is what we want to see on our screens, something that's a realistic interpretation of society in all its different forms.'

For you, what's it like playing a villain, how does that stretch you differently as an actor?

GC: It's very exciting (laughs). It's so fun to play an evil character! It's fun to play someone that's a villain. After a lot of wonderful years playing Brienne of Tarth, who I absolutely love and adore playing, it's nice to have that change. It's nice to be able to change your acting muscles and work on something that's the polar opposite of what you've done before.

What was really fascinating, was that I realized I would go about the part in a way I've never had the opportunity to before. I had to really invest in the physicality of the character – what went on above the neck was as important as what went on below the neck. Because Captain Phasma wears so much armor, down to her feet, even the feet are covered, I started to look at the way I held my body and what that would communicate. The way in which someone might gesture with her hand might mean something, the way in which she stood would communicate something about the character, the way in which she walked would also say and illustrate something about the character. It meant that I really had to focus on that as well as what's going on above the neck.

(Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm)

Yeah, I get a sense of purpose just from the one shot of you walking through the flames.

GC: Yeah! (laughs). It was so amazing to see. It just looks sensational, doesn't it? It looks sensational, but it also looks identifiable as a Star Wars movie. I think it's so fantastic that it really feels like we know it, but we are discovering it for the first time.

What else surprised you about Captain Phasma as you got to know her and got to live in that role?

GC: It's very difficult, because I can't talk about anything that might expose plot points, so that's tough. But, the costume is so spectacular that I realized that this character wore armor that was high-functioning, inflexible, and imposing. Just as a basic starter, those elements were very interesting to me. It's very interesting to me, the idea of a woman in that position of power.

Yeah, wearing this reflective, chrome armor, too, seems very cocky!

GC: (laughs uproarously) Does it really?

Yeah, it's like "Here I am, come and get me!"

GC: That must mean she's good at what she does. (eyebrow raise)

Tell me a little bit about the first time you sat down and read the script, I imagine it was quite the moment.

GC: There's obviously a shroud of secrecy surrounding everything. I was pleased for that in a way, because it's such an anticipated film, I was excited that we'd have the opportunity to discover this new Star Wars movie all together, and it would be the kind of wonderful surprise that we used to have as children.

When working on the script, you worked on it at Pinewood Studios, locked in a room! I was just thrilled. There's something of a wonderful childlike excitement about the whole thing, that you're going into this, getting this wonderful information and getting to bring it to life. That not just appealed to me as an actor who loves their job, but also as a fan and someone that was so desperate to see this movie.

Well, Kathleen Kennedy let it slip that Captain Phasma is returning for Episode VIII. Do you have any particular hopes for the character, as far as more exploration of her background, or her personal self, versus just the imposing figure from the First Order that she is?

GC: The feeling that I'm getting and the feeling that I have, is that I think everybody would love to know more about Captain Phasma. So let's just hope that happens. (laughs)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in U.S. theaters December 18, 2015.